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Re-entry, straight in at the top

20 Dec 11 | Re: Music television

This isn’t nostalgia talking: it genuinely is time to bring back Top of the Pops.

I watched TOTP right up to its ignominious Sunday evening graveyard slot and cancellation, and when it went, I could see the logic in the decision. However, there are certain things that have changed since then, which mean that the format could now succeed if treated correctly.

Most importantly, the chart has changed. TOTP was always based on the chart, and a big factor in its death was that the chart started behaving very strangely. The rule on TOTP was that you could go on if your record was climbing the charts; imagine their shock, then, when in the late 90s, records stopped climbing the charts altogether! Instead, they shot in at their peak positions and then sank at varying rates. That meant that each song could only ever be legitimately featured on TOTP once, in its week of entry. That meant that there was no continuity between one programme and the next, and no satisfaction for the viewer in seeing a favourite song gradually climb week after week.

In desperation, in the last few years, the producers started playing non-movers, or songs that were going down the chart but were still in high positions. This always felt weirdly uneasy (in Jessie J terms, the show wasn’t being true to who it was), and served to undermine the internal legitimacy of the programme - because it had abandoned its own rules - and interest in the chart itself, because chart-climbing stopped being essential.

These days, though, there are lots of climbers. This week there are 16 songs climbing the top 40, by Little Mix, Coldplay, Avicii, Leona Lewis, Ed Sheeran, Mariah Carey, the Pogues, Maroon 5, LMFOA, Rizzle Kicks, Damien Rice, Katy Perry, One Direction, En Vogue, Rihanna and Slow Moving Millie, and many more lower down the top 75. Even if not all of the high charters could be persuaded to come on the show (the Pogues, I fear, would by sadly unavailable), a decent selection of them would make for a super half hour of TV. And I bet the vast majority would be glad to go on, including notionally cooler artists like Ed Sheeran. Which brings me to my next point.

Secondly, perceptions of what’s cool have shifted. It’s hard to say exactly why. Maybe it’s just that the rock ’n’ roll and punk eras were so long ago now. Maybe it’s because the current standard bearers for ‘real’ music, U2, are themselves so patently naff. Maybe it’s because keyboards and sequencers have finally been around long enough for everyone to accept that it is indeed legitimate to use them to make music. Maybe it’s because falling record sales have made musicians think seriously about whether they can afford to go round sneering at everybody. Whatever, the idea that serious musicians need to expend effort on maintaining their precious rock credibility is pretty much in tatters at this point. The only people who still cling to it end up looking wholly ridiculous, like Matt Cardle or Q magazine. So what I’m saying is that in the current climate, it would be unlikely for a resurrected TOTP to be crippled by significant numbers of high-charting acts refusing to appear, or appearing but treating the show as beneath them.

I think it was the year before last that Muse were on the Christmas TOTP. Muse are Britain’s undisputed Best Live Act and one of the few remaining guitar-based groups that’s still both massively popular and artistically relevant. They went on the Christmas TOTP and, furthermore, chose to share the stage with santa-suited disco dancers. They understood that the way to come off well is to embrace the spirit of the show. They did not lose some vital credibility by doing so.

The third reason why the time is right for TOTP is that there have been two new developments in chart trends that would actually make TOTP more fun and exciting than ever before. The first of these is that acts now often have several songs climbing the chart at once; for example, this week Coldplay have five and Adele has four, albeit mostly some way down the top 75. That means that artists on TOTP could be encouraged to sing medleys of their currently popular hits, giving viewers something that they couldn’t see anywhere else. The second chart trend is the re-charting of old songs made possible by the download era, which is most noticeable at Christmas but happens all year round to some degree. When this happened, the new TOTP could go into the archive and look back at an old TOTP performance, or play the song’s original video. That would give the show a nostalgic appeal to older viewers, without in any way compromising its up-to-the-minute reflection of what is currently popular.

So, a revamped TOTP would have the chart on its side; it wouldn’t have to worry about snooty no-showers; and it could include medleys and occasional vault-raids without departing from a rigidly chart-based format. So bring it back, BBC! If you do, here are the rules you must follow:

Posted by HARETON EARNSHAW at 22:23

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